I Played That! #2: Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II (PC)

Baldur’s Gate came out in 1998 after something of a dry spell for me, game-wise. The types of role-playing games I enjoyed, which I’ll talk about later, had been coming out less and less frequently, pushed off the shelves by swarms of first-person shooters and real-time strategy games, neither of which interested me much. (It was actually not the first such game to break this fast, and we’ll talk about that one in time as well.)

Baldur’s Gate absolutely blew me away. It was beautiful to look at, had tons of equipment, spells, characters, and locations, and a pretty decent plot. The mix of real-time and paused combat was a gift to me, who simply couldn’t handle most RTS games. I was playing D&D around this time, so the subject matter was interesting to me as well (though I had never followed any of the “Forgotten Realms” stuff, so the references to characters and organizations there were completely lost on me).

In 2000 Interplay released Baldur’s Gate II, and it was even better. The engine had been updated greatly, and the story was actually very very good, one of the best RPG stories I’ve encountered.

These games really returned role-playing games — as opposed to cartoons with slime-fighting in-between episodes — to the landscape. The games were developed by Black Isle Studios, and I’ll be talking about every single game they released before they went belly-up in 2003, leaving this promising field to go fallow.

In 2012 an “enhanced edition” of Baldur’s Gate was released, which I bought immediately and then didn’t really play. I’d started it twice but both times didn’t get too far into it. Part of this is because, in retrospect, Baldur’s Gate has a really slow beginning. It’s really hard to keep up your momentum during Non-Stop Xvart Attack. It’s also kind of punishing; one of the first quests you get is to clear spiders out of a guy’s house and they will wreck you over and over.

A month or so ago I took another crack at it and made it through the Xvart of the Storm and got going on the main plot, eventually finishing it. Coming at it fifteen(!) years later reveals a certain amount of nostalgia seasoning my memories of Baldur’s Gate. While still nothing to complain about, my memories had smoothed over some of the rough patches. Not only is the plot slow, it’s really hard to figure out what quests you’re still on and where you need to go for them, an the vast amount of spells, potions, weapons, and loot make you wealthy beyond your wildest dreams nearly immediately, especially since you only need a fraction of them. There’s also the fact that the 2nd-edition Dungeons and Dragons rules make everything more opaque than necessary; this potion will raise your intelligence to 18, but what does that mean? What will this help me do?

On the other hand, I finished the game with more or less the first people you meet for companions, despite there being loads of others. There were quests I never went on, and places on the map I never visited. There’s a lot more packed into this game that I’ve barely touched, even after three plays (I’ve had the exact same party every time). So there’s at least one more play of it here for me.

And not only that, I’ve bought the complete Baldur’s Gate II from GOG.com, and will be starting that up again soon.

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